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NYMPHS and Shepherds dance no more
By sandy Ladon's1 lilied banks,
On old Lycæus or Cyllene hoar
Trip no more in twilight ranks,
Though Erymanth your loss deplore,
A better soil shall give ye thanks.
From the stony Mænalus
Bring your flocks, and live with us;
Here ye shall have greater grace,
To serve the lady of this place;
Though Syrinx your Pan's mistress were,
Yet Syrinx well might wait on her.
Such a rural Queen
All Arcadia hath not seen.
1 A beautiful river of Arcadia,
Presented at Ludlow Castle before John, Earl of Bridgewater, then
"Comus was suggested to the Poet by the fact that the two sons and the daughter of the Earl of Bridgewater, on their roturn from a visit to some relations in Herefordshire, were benighted in Haywood Forest; and the Lady Alice was, for a short time, lost. The Mask was written for the Michaelmas festivities of 1634, and acted by Lord Bridgewater's children. The music composed for it was by Henry Lawes, who performed in it the part of the Spirit, or Thyrsis. He was the son of Thomas Lawes, a Vicar-Choral of Salisbury Cathedral, and was at first a chorister himself. He became finally one of the Court musicians to Charles I. Masks and music filed before the stern gloom of the Commonwealth, and Lawes was compelled to gain his living by teaching the lute. His greatest friends during this period of difficulty and poverty were the Ladies Alice and Mary Egerton. He lived to the Restoration, and composed the Coronation Anthem for Charles II. "Comus" was first published by Lawes, without Milton's name, in 1637, with a dedication to Lord Brackley. Masks were the fashion of the age; and Milton was probably called on by Lord Bridgewater to produce one, because he had already written the "Arcades" for Lady Bridgewater's mother, Lady Derby, at Harefield, in Middlesex.
The First Scene discovers a Wild Wood.
The attendant Spirit1 descends or enters.
BEFORE the starry threshold of Jove's court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
Of bright aerial spirits live insphered
In regions mild of calm and serene air,
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot,
Which men call Earth, and with low-thoughtèd care
Confined, and pester'd2 in this pinfold here,
Strive to keep up a frail and feverish being,
Unmindful of the crown that virtue gives,
After this mortal change, to her true servants,
Amongst the enthroned Gods on sainted seats.
The Spirit is called "Dæmon" in the Cambridge MS.-WARTON.
2 Crowded; from pesta, a crowd.
Yet some there be that by due steps aspire
To lay their just hands on that golden key,
That opes the palace of eternity;
To such my errand is; and but for such,
I would not soil these pure ambrosial weeds
With the rank vapours of this sin-worn mould.
But to my task. Neptune, besides the sway
Of every salt flood, and each ebbing stream,
Took in by lot 'twixt high and nether Jove
Imperial rule of all the sea-girt isles,
That like to rich and various gems inlay
The unadorned bosom of the deep;
Which he, to grace his tributary Goʻls,
By course commits to sev'ral government,
And gives them leave to wear their sapphire crowns,
And wield their little tridents: but this Isle,
The greatest and the best of all the main,
He quarters to his blue-hair'd deities;
And all this tract that fronts the falling sun
A noble Peer of mickle trust and power
Has in his charge, with temper'd awe to guide
An old and haughty nation proud in arms: 1
Where his fair offspring, nursed in princely lore,
Are coming to attend their father's state,
And new-intrusted sceptre; but their way
Lies through the perplex'd paths of this drear wood,
The nodding horror of whose shady brows
Threats the forlorn and wand'ring passenger;
And here their tender age might suffer peril,
But that by quick command from sovʼreign Jove
I was dispatch'd for their defence and guard;
And listen why, for I will tell you now
What never yet was heard in tale or song,
From old or modern bard, in hall or bower.
Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape
Crush'd the sweet poison of misused wine,
After the Tuscan mariners transform'd,
Coasting the Tyrrhene shore, as the winds listed,
On Circe's island fell: who knows not Circe,
The daughter of the sun, whose charmed cup
Whoever tasted, lost his upright shape,
And downward fell into a grovelling swine?
This Nymph that gazed upon his clustering locks,mī
With ivy berries wreath'd, and his blithe youth,/??
Had by him, ere he parted thence, a son
Much like his father, but his mother more,
Whom therefore she brought up, and Comus' named:
Who ripe, and frolic of his full grown age,
Roving the Celtic and Iberian fields,
At last betakes him to this ominous wood,
And in thick shelter of black shades imbower'd
Excels his mother at her mighty art,
Offering to ev'ry weary traveller
His orient liquor in a crystal glass,
To quench the drouth of Phoebus, which as they taste,
(For most do taste through fond intemperate thirst) 14
Soon as the potion works, their human countenance,
The express resemblance of the Gods, is changed
Into some brutish form of wolf, or bear,
Or ounce, or tiger, hog, or bearded goat,
All other parts remaining as they were;
And they, so perfect is their misery,
Not once perceive their foul disfigurement,
But boast themselves more comely than before,
And all their friends and native home forget,
To roll with pleasure in a sensual sty.
Therefore, when any favour'd of high Jove
Chances to pass through this adventurous glade, } :: 1
Swift as the sparkle of a glancing star
I shoot from heaven, to give him safe convoy,
As now I do: But first I must put off
These my sky robes spun out of Iris' woof, IS
And take the weeds and likeness of a swain, f.
That to the service of this house belongs,
Who with his soft pipe, and smooth-dittied song,
1 Comus was the god of good cheer. He had appeared as a dramatic per
sonage in one of Jonson's Masks before the Court, in 1619.
Well knows to still the wild winds when they roar,
And hush the waving woods, nor of less faith,
And in this office of his mountain watch,
Likeliest, and nearest to the present aid
Of this occasion. But I hear the tread
Of hateful steps, I must be viewless now.
Comus enters with a charming-rod in one hand, his glass in the other; with him a rout of monsters, headed like sundry sorts of wild beasts, but otherwise like men and women, their apparel glistening; they come in making a riotous and unruly noise, with torches in their hands.
COMUS. The star that bids the shepherd fold,
Now the top of heaven doth hold;
And the gilded car of day
His glowing axle doth allay
In the steep Atlantic stream;
And the slope sun his upward beam
Shoots against the dusky pole,
Pacing toward the other goal
Of his chamber in the east.
Meanwhile welcome Joy, and Feast,
Midnight Shout and Revelry,
Tipsy Dance and Jollity.
Braid your locks with rosy twine,..
Dropping odours, dropping wine.
Rigour now is gone to bed,
And Advice with scrupulous head,
Strict Age, and sour Severity,
With their grave saws in slumber lie.
We that are of purer fire
Imitate the starry quire,
Who in their nightly watchful spheres
Lead in swift round the months and years.
The sounds and seas, with all their finny drove,
Now to the moon in wavering morrice move;
And on the tawny sands and shelves
Trip the pert fairies and the dapper elves.
1 The morice, or Moorish, dance, long a great favourite with our ancestors. It was introduced by John of Gaunt, it is
said, in the reign of Edward III., on his return from Spain.